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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Chichester Canal: a walk from Chichester to Birdham, 23.06.21

Updated: Jul 7, 2021

This was a new walk to me, and the walk was suggested by a friend as an opportunity to see Dragonflies & Damselflies (it was). It was also a great opportunity, at this time of year, to see bird chicks an fledglings; and we saw the young of Coots, Moorhens, Mute Swans, Mallards, Little Grebes and Long-tailed Tits. Whilst we did not see any particularly rare bird or insect species, what we did see was beautiful and fascinating. On a Summer day, this makes a great walk,

We travelled to and from Chichester Canal by public transport, getting the train from Brighton to Chichester. The start of the Canal path is just south of Chichester Station. The full walk ends at Birdham/Chichester Marina. From Chichester Marina we walked back to the A286 (the main road from Chichester to the Witterings, and caught the 52 back to Chichester (you can catch the 52 or 53 bus back to Chichester Station). Click here for full details of public transport links including train and bus timetables.

The History of the Chichester Canal

The following text on the history of the Canal (and the maps) come from Chichester Canal History - Chichester Ship Canal

What is known today as the Chichester Canal is in fact part of the former Portsmouth & Arundel Canal. This was opened in 1823 and consisted of a 12-mile canal from Ford on the River Arun to Salterns and a shorter cut from Langstone Harbour to Portsmouth Harbour, connected together by a 13-mile dredged ‘bargeway’ through the natural harbours and channels between them.

Intended as a key link in a through route to London via the River Arun Navigation, Wey & Arun Junction Canal, River Wey and River Thames, it was not a success. By the time it was built, there was no real need for an inland route as larger and better ships, coupled with an end to hostilities with France, meant that the coastal route was an easier and cheaper option.

One of the few regular through cargoes carried was gold bullion from Portsmouth to the Bank of England, with armed guards on the barges.

A 1.5 mile branch led from Hunston on the main line of the canal to a basin in Chichester. This and the short connecting length of the main line from Salterns to Hunston were built to a larger gauge and equipped with iron swingbridges to enable coastal ships of over 100 tons to reach Chichester. This was the only part of the canal that enjoyed even a modest success, bringing in building materials and coal, and taking away manure. It carried trade until 1906, while the rest of the canal had been unused since the 1840s and fallen derelict soon after.

Transferred to the City Council in 1892 (who in turn sold it to West Sussex County Council in 1957), the surviving four miles were abandoned in 1928. The entrance lock and a short length at Salterns were retained as yacht moorings prior to the building of Chichester Marina alongside; the lock is still capable of operation and a number of houseboats are moored on this length. The remainder of the route to Chichester was leased to the local angling club and gradually silted up over the following half-century. Two main road bridges were replaced by unnavigable culverts.

The Walk

This map is from the leaflet on the Canal from Chichester Canal Trading Limited

A Female Mute Swan and her Cygnets by Canal Basin

Sadly the male parent swan has an infected wing and is currently recovering at a Swan Support, Datchet; see this Facebook Post for details.

There is a lovely video of the cygnets jumping into the canal basin here, by Rachel Dean, Chichester Ship Canal Trust volunteer.

This Coot parent and Chicks were spotted at the beginning of the canal; we saw many Coot and Coot young, at various stages of development, along the canal.

A Buff-tailed Worker Bumblebee on Western Cranesbill (Geranium endressii)

Moor Coots.

This Coot parents was ding to pull up weed for its chicks to eat.

A juvenile Coot (with remnants of juvenile white bib that adults do not have, and its bill turning into the adult white bill)

A juvenile Moorhen, the brown plumage of a juvenile partly transformed into the black plumage of an adult Moorhen

There was a solitary Common Tern flying up and down Canal Basin to Hunston section of the canal foraging for insects. There are many Common Terns nesting in Pagham Harbour a few miles south of here; so it likely that this Tern is collecting food for its offspring.

Parent Coots on a nest.

Juvenile Coot preening,

Adult Coot on nest, possibly incubating eggs.

Adult Coot preening.

Juvenile Moorhen

A family of fledgling Long-tailed Tits

A Buff-tailed worker Bumblebee on Cow Parsley.

Toward the old Selsey Tramway crossing

Mixed Mallards, including a Domestic Duck/Mallard hybrid

Coot chicks eating weed pulled up from the bottom of the canal by the parent Coot

A Moorhen parent and two Moorhen chicks on the canal path

A female Mallard and ducklings

Moor Coot chicks!

The Site of the former bridge for the West Sussex Railway (formerly Hundred of Manhood and Selsey Tramway, opened 1897), crossing; there are more archaeological remains of the Selsey Tramway at RSPB Pagham Harbour.

The West Sussex Railway opened in 1897 as the Hundred of Manhood and Selsey Tramway, so named to save having to build the railway to regulations that normally covered railways, later changing its name to the WSR. It closed in 1935 in the face of intensive road bus competition. Although for many years very busy its finances never recovered from the costs of repairing damage due to floods in 1911, which totally submerged the railway just north of Pagham Harbour. It ran from Chichester to Selsey in West Sussex, England and was one of the Colonel Holman Fred Stephens Railways. Selsey Tramway - West Sussex Railway |

A Damselfly, possibly a Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly - further clarification being sought)

A fallen tree.

An Azure Damselfly.

Remains of the Dudley Bridge

Another fallen tree.

A Little Grebe (Dabchick) in summer (breeding plumage) in the around the fallen tree

Little Grebe (Dabchick) chicks.

A female Mallard and a juvenile Coot on the fallen tress

Fallen tree

A view of the Canal and the foot path

A female Mallard

A Mute Swan parent that appeared to have lost its cygnets

A female Mallard and ducklings.

A Mute Swan parent with cygnets

A female Mallard and her chicks get rather close to the San with the cygnets


There were many low-flying insects on the canal; this duckling was chasing and eating insects.

More of the previous swan and cygnets

A male and female Tufted Duck

Their juvenile male?

More Mallards and ducklings, approaching the remains of Cutfield Bridge,

More Coots and their chicks

A Common Darter Dragonfly

Remains of something (perhaps a sluice) near Cutter Bridge

Sheep grazing by the banks of the canal on the last stretch of the canal (going toward Birdham/Chichester Marina)

The remains of Casher Lock, just before the end of the canal, where it meets Chichester Harbour.


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